Paul & the Gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14

imagesWhen we think of the charismata gifts of the Spirit, we normally think of 2 places to look in Scripture – the book of Acts and 1 Corinthians 12-14. And those are 2 good places to start.

However, these 2 passages are not the say all, end all on these gifts of the Spirit. They are a good start, but they don’t stand as detailed instructions like how to change the hard drive on your computer.

And, let us not discount from learning about the gift (singular) of the Spirit and the gifts (plural) of the Spirit in Acts. We learn just as much from reading of God’s acting amongst humanity as we do in specifically instructive words. Not to mention that Luke has shaped Acts in such a way as to teach us.

Nevertheless, we might say that it’s Paul’s instructive words to the Corinthians that give us more particular guidelines as to what these gifts might look like in the gathering of God’s people. And it’s 1 Cor 12:1-11 that provide a little introduction to these gifts.

So I’d like to highlight 5 main points that I see in these introductory words of Paul.

1) The knowledge of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:1)

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.

Paul did not want this group of believers to be uninformed, or as some translations state – I do not want you to be ignorant. Of course, the Corinthians had knowledge, but in some ways they had wrong knowledge, as well as wrong practice.

So Paul comes in and teaches about healthy and proper practice. Many times, out of fear, it is easier to steer clear of things that have been continually done wrong. I believe this is true concerning the gifts of the Spirit. Many people are not open to these because they know how unhealthy the practices of some have been. I’m sure we could list a few names or groups. And, yes, this is true. But as I continually remind people – misuse and abuse should never lead us to abandon something. Rather, as imitators of Christ, we are called to faithful and healthy use. Such instruction was very relevant to the Corinthian church.

But, with today’s church, whereas most people have moved away from a possible antagonistic view towards the gifts of the Spirit, due to the major moves of the Spirit across multiple denominations and church groups, you might still find quite a lot of people uninformed. So, whereas, the Corinthians had wrong knowledge and practise in a lot of ways, many present-day churches simply don’t know these gifts. Our best ideas are from television, or even worse, YouTube. But this is not all that helpful – this lack of any understanding of the gifts – if we are to become informed about the reality of these gifts.

And, so, that’s where we need to be challenged. We are not to remain uninformed. We are not to remain ignorant. Almost 2000 years later, we are to remain challenged by these words of Paul:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Cor 14:1)

Where do we start? Most of us probably know some person or people involved in a church that believes in and correctly practises the gifts of the Spirit. And there are plenty of solid resources and books to consider. But let not our desire be to remain uninformed of these gifts. And, even more, let us be stirred to earnestly desire such gifts.

2) The nature of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:4-6)

The first thing to briefly point out is the activity of the Trinity with these gifts:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same LordThere are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Normally, in the context of the New Testament, the word Lord (kyrios in Greek) is utilised for Jesus and the word God (theos in Greek) is utilised for the Father. I am simply amazed at both the cooperation and unselfishness of the Trinity. If only the body of Christ could get a small glimpse of that reality – that would work wonders amongst us in our local and wider contexts.

But moving on.

With regards to the nature of the gifts of God, all gifts, I believe there is one practical area of grave misunderstanding. It is all centred around something like this: First, we believe the gifts of God are hidden abilities within us that we are called to search for, dig up and unearth. And, the way many of us do so is by taking a multiple-choice test to figure out what our top 3 or 4 gifts are. Then, we feel good that we have identified our gifts.

Listen, I am not trying to say it is terrible if one takes a ‘test’ for gaining information and understanding about the giftings and ministries God might have opened to us. But, when it comes down to it, we are not really ever asked to search and find out our gifts. God’s people are simply called to serve. We are told to get on with edifying the body, serving, blessing, building up, etc. Remember, these are serving ministries, not hidden abilities to unearth.

Think of it this way: The reason why we know someone is an evangelist is because they are drawing other people towards Christ. The reason why we know someone is a teacher is because they are faithfully explaining the truth of Scripture. The reason why we know someone has a ministry of leading is because people follow their lead. And so on and so forth.

There are 3 other reasons why I believe this is a more healthy approach to spiritual gifts than the test-to-find-out-your-gifts approach:

a) There are two main words in the Greek that we translate as ‘spiritual gifts’ – pneumatika and charismata.

The word pneumatika (i.e. in 1 Cor 12:1) could probably be better translated as ‘spiritual people’ or even simply ‘spirituals’. There is nothing about ‘hidden abilities to dig up’ in this word. I don’t doubt that the Spirit puts things within us, since he does indwell us, and it might be that the word charismata could be used to make this point. But serving amongst the body of Christ is the best way to know how we are called to serve.

b) Look at the emphasis of vs4-6 again.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Vs4 utilises the word gifts in the place of the Greek word charismata. But look how it is coupled with the two words from the following two verses – service and working. These gifts are serving ministries (for ‘ministry’ simply means ‘service’). And these are actual workings, or activities, of the Spirit. They aren’t hidden. They are activities we walk out through serving!

c) Finally, note the emphasis of vs7.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Again, just as vs4-6 point out that these are different kinds of service and are workings, here we are told they are manifestations. This also highlights that they are visible activities that take place – again, through serving.

So I focus in on the nature of these gifts because we can miss a few things about the nature of how these gifts function amongst God’s people. We are not called to find out our gifts and, then, once we do, we slot in to where our gifts can be best used. It’s just not really done that way. Rather, we are simply called to serve. And as opportunities arise, if it is right, God will empower us to be used in such a service, in such a ministry, in such an activity, even a manifestation of God’s Spirit.

Therefore, I will be honest and say that I don’t believe the excuse, ‘Well, that’s not my gift,’ is a very valid one. If one doesn’t believe they ‘have’ a particular gift, let’s be open and available to God in being utilised where we are weak. Remember, his grace is sufficient; his power will be made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).

Yes, I am very much aware of balancing this with wisdom. I am not saying we throw anyone and everyone into any and every ministry activity. You see where a ministry, a service, and a manifestation of God is needed, and available people step in to serve in just that way as they are empowered by God.

I believe this is the nature of the gifts of God’s Spirit. All of them.

3) The result of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:7)

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

The gifts are given mainly to be a blessing to people – to build them up, edify, exhort, strengthen. This is similar to what Paul says specifically about the gift of prophecy:

But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. (1 Cor 14:3)

When people serve in these gifts, the body of Christ will be spurred on towards the things of God. That is the fruit to be bore. Even with prophecy, there are some who think: 1) it is mainly about predicting the future, 2) it must be in King James English and 3) it must always be in the form of rebuke.

But that is not what prophecy is mainly about, as Paul reminds us in this verse above. Of course there will be times to challenge and rebuke. That’s simple reality. But, in all, it’s given (even in rebuke) to help people move towards Christ. And such is truly building them up, strengthening them, blessing them.

Also, let me take a minute to remind us that the reverse is true as well. What I mean is this: If the gifts of the Spirit are for the common good, then if we don’t give space for such gifts, the church will be found lacking. It doesn’t mean we will forever be held back from moving forward in Christ. But these specific gifts will help us move towards Christ more and more, just as all the gifts of God will. That is important to remember.

4) The list of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:8-10)

By no means do I believe these 9 gifts are exhaustive, or even that the other lists in the NT (1 Cor 12:28-29; Eph 4:11; Rom 12:6-8; 1 Pet 4:10-11) are exhaustive. There is quite a good representation amongst them. But there are plenty of other serving ministry gifts available to God’s people.

But these gifts remain part of the main mix, no doubt.

Some find it helpful to divide these nine gifts into 3 groups of 3, as follows:

  • Gifts of power: faith, gifts of healings, workings of miracles
  • Gifts of thought: word (message) of knowledge, word (message) of wisdom, distinguishings between spirits
  • Gifts of speech: prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues

To be honest, the way Paul lists them probably identifies that these groupings are not always so perfect. And there is overlapping space between some of the gifts – like prophecy and word of knowledge. I don’t mind the 3 groups mentioned above, and I don’t mind lists – Paul utilised lists and I’m sure he listed things in certain ways to make points at times (like listing love as the gifts fruit of the Spirit). But let’s not formulate group listings too hard and fast.

5) The empowering of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:11)

Finally I emphasise that these gifts are empowered amongst God’s people, and this is obviously done by the Spirit. In this short verse, we are reminded of this empowering:

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

The word work here is the Greek word energei, which is translated as empowered in the ESV. It’s basically an energising work. And, of course, we’d expect the work of the Spirit to energise the body of Christ.

We need to be connected to the power source, if you will, which happens to be the person of God’s Spirit. The Spirit was given in the first place to empower God’s people to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). I’m quite confident in acknowledging that these nine gifts, along with all of God’s giftings, will be helpful in walking out our call as an empowered people.

So, thus, you have some introductory thoughts to the gifts of the Spirit, at least as found in 1 Cor 12:1-11.

Are there any other thoughts you see as well?

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One thought on “Paul & the Gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14

  1. Pingback: Biblical Studies Carnival: August, 2013 | NEAR EMMAUS

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